What does social technology have to do with global health?

“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”
― Albert Einstein

What if this proposition was another of Einstein’s significant insights, right alongside his famous equation E=mc²? The most obvious implication in a raw, un-nuanced form would be: “To make a real difference to the problems you face, you need to change your thinking.”

But when was the last time you saw a problem in the world then quickly concluded, “So how can I look at this differently?” Much more common will be the instant rising of horror or indignation, annoyance, distaste, or maybe frustration, cynicism and the like. I dare say, you don’t immediately inventory your own perspectives to figure out how you can see such obvious problems others are having/instigating in order to get a different take on it!

But taking Einstein seriously would mean something like that. When we hit a rough patch, have an argument, differ significantly with another in our lives, our first and foremost endeavor should be to change something in our thinking about this situation… and not just conclude that our current view and take on it is, well, the word of God.

So what TO do?

Albert_Einstein_(Nobel)But first, a quick note on Einstein. As remarkable a man as he was, he is not the only one to have made the point that a shift in perspective and thinking is needed to solve life’s challenges and riddles. The idea behind gestalt, solutions-focused brief therapy… and many other therapies, as well as zen koans, prayer and fasting, Tony Robbins immersion weekends and many other actions that have historically made a great difference to people’s lives, have all have been vehicles for this kind of essential shift. So the idea is not new. The challenge of effective implementation is as always how to effect the change when such a change is needed. And in this day and age where people more and more take their own personal development or spiritual path into their own hands, it also becomes “how can I make the change in my life.”

After all, how many of us have direct access to a therapist, a zen-master or personal coach? Do we have to have some life-changing traumatic experience  to change our perspective and thinking? What are our other options? This is where social technologies designed to facilitate this shift can come in very handy. And I might say, for some lives, “handy” is more akin to being life-saving.

Today, 77% of Americans suffer physical symptoms caused by stress (American Psychological Association). In order, the causes are: job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload and sleep deprivation. But America is not alone. Consider why the General Assembly of the United Nations might call for a Special Session in 2011 on Non-Communicable Diseases. The UN like many institutions, relies very heavily on statistics and as most do, it translates raw data into a language that everyone understands—dollars and cents. But the UN also views  statistics through the lens of  peace and security.NCDs

It is not a stretch of the imagination to see that as the numbers of those brought into health systems in any country reach levels where they stress and then overburden their health systems systems, then the health of the nations people becomes one destabilizing factors. Perhaps for most countries it will mean little more then a new set of elections. Perhaps for many, it may not. BUT, have this happen in a number of nations around the world at the same time as the statistics suggest… well, it is simply wisdom for the UN to  encourage nations to pay attention to the issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

And yes, the numbers* have already spoken loudly enough for the United Nations to have held a high-level meeting on this issue in 2011. From the vantage point of global leaders concerned with the plight of people and the peace of nations, NCDs are writing on the wall. So it might be reasonable to say that it is time to construct more effective ways to help people implement the changes in their personal lives they see the need for. This is the place for social technologies.

Even the most diligent self-helper needs a little more than ad-hoc, “luck of the draw” experience. Having access to proven, studied systems adapted for personal use is needed. With today’s technologies, such systems can be made available in innovative ways to more than a lucky few. Social technologies take learning to new levels and places. Building the capacity of people to more effectively guide the changes in their lives that are happening all the time, is an essential tool, and one that Global Development Enterprise has been focusing on for the last 7 years.

More information about the “Solutions Matrix” will be coming soon.

*World Health Organization’s overview brochure from the UN NCD Summit, 2011